For the first time in modern Idaho political campaigns, the state Democratic Party dramatically outspent its typically well-heeled Republican opponent.
But the party trying to avoid a permanent assignment to the history books seems to have gotten nothing for the $2.1 million it raised and spent during the two years leading up to the Nov. 5 election.
Idaho Democratic leaders admitted they needed a major win last month to begin the road back from 1994’s defeat, the worst in two generations. But not only did the party come away without any big GOP trophy, it suffered additional losses in the state Legislature already the nation’s most Republican.
“They have not submitted ideas which were worthy of the consideration of the people of Idaho,” was the way Republican Gov. Phil Batt’s assessed the outcome.
The prospect of knocking off Republican Sen. Larry Craig and GOP Rep. Helen Chenoweth drew the cash to Idaho. But Dan Williams fell 6,500 votes short of ousting Chenoweth, and businessman Walt Minnick wound up 17 percentage points behind Craig.
Traditionally relegated to a budget of just a few hundred thousand dollars each campaign - it had just over $300,000 to spend on the 1994 race - traditional Democratic fundraising efforts were supplemented with a windfall from the national party and out-of-state supporters, most attracted through Minnick’s Senate candidacy.
The national party pumped nearly $1.1 million into the state party effort, and the friends of Minnick, along with a handful of other big contributors drawn to Idaho for any number of reasons, donated nearly $650,000 more.
By comparison, the state Republican Party ended up with $600,000 from national party committees to augment the solid financial support it has characteristically received from the state’s business community. It raised a total of just over $1.5 million.
But the GOP spent just under $1.2 million through the election, leaving it with about $350,000 in the bank, while Democrats used nearly every dime of the cash they came into, ending the campaign with less than $40,000 in the bank.
Both parties also benefited from large independent expenditure by third parties. Labor and other groups spent over $500,000 - some estimates put it at $1 million - to defeat Craig and Chenoweth. And the national Republican Party dumped $169,000 into state legislative races, where there are no contribution restrictions, to finance voter turnout efforts to help all GOP candidates.
Democrats spent over $900,000 on television and radio advertising and another $340,000 more on direct mail. The GOP spent just $400,000 on television ads and only a fraction of the Democratic expenditure on mailings.
But the Republican Party was already working with a solid, well organized core of supporters, while Democrats again struggled with the lack of an organized base that has only been overcome in past elections by the campaign structures personally popular candidates have assembled on their own.